“I enjoyed anything by Bill Bryson, Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence, ’ ‘Under the Tuscan Sun, ’" he said in an interview. "Those sorts of travel memoirs passed the time on the Tube and made for a very pleasant start to the day.”
At that point in his life — a decade ago — he never would have fathomed that he’d become the author of such a book himself. But, then, he hadn’t been planning to radically change his life. It just sort of happened. Miller and his partner, Dean, were visiting northern Wisconsin on vacation, and they learned that West’s Hayward Dairy, a somewhat decrepit but much-loved ice cream shop in Hayward, was for sale.
It’s natural, when on vacation, to fantasize a little — wouldn’t it be fun to live in this beautiful place? But Miller and Dean took that daydream to the next level. They sold their London apartment and with the proceeds bought West’s Dairy, for Miller to run, and McCormick House, an 1887 Victorian mansion for Dean to transform into a four-star bed and breakfast. Miller grew up in the Twin Cities, while Dean was a native Brit, but the change of pace was dramatic for both of them.
“It’s all a matter of perspective. Our friends in London thought it quite exotic, and to them, the wilderness of Northern Wisconsin is exotic. They might go to Provence all the time, so that’s sort of ordinary, ” he said. “But the vast distances, the woods and water and long quiet winters, those things are hard for someone in London to even imagine.”
It might be a stretch to say that Hayward is to Twin Citizens what Provence is to Brits, but then again, maybe it isn’t. In “Scoop: Notes From a Small Ice Cream Shop” (Minnesota Historical Society Press), Miller describes the culture shock the couple experienced as they left London for the Midwest to embark on a somewhat rocky road as new owners of an outdated business. But we also see how, over the course of a year, he becomes one of the townies, a regular among a small, quirky band of shopkeepers, old-timers, and locals whose livelihood depends on a seasonal influx of visitors, most of whom hail from the Twin Cities.
“I realized one day that my story was interesting. I often told little anecdotes and vignettes to my friends in London and my B&B guests about the characters here and the things that go on in town, and I started writing them down, ” he said. Miller bought a stack of how-to-write guides and studied up, but the work came fairly naturally to the former attorney. “I think a lot of lawyers are frustrated writers who go into law because they are afraid of failure and poverty.”